When you paint from a reference photo, you run the risk of sticking to the photograph completely instead of making the picture your own. On the other hand, not having a reference makes painting a lot harder. You have to really know what things look like for starters, but that’s not all. You also need to have a clear picture in your head of how the light will work. Where will the shadows be? What colour do you need to use for them? What kind of contrast should you apply? It’s a daunting task…
I’m not brave enough to tackle everything at the same time. I know I can make a decent drawing from a picture or en plein air. Years ago I visited Berlin, and I spent many afternoons walking through the city, sitting down here and there to draw buildings. I also went to the zoo to draw animals. It’s fun! The paintings I made recently have mostly been guided by photographs I made in the past. But I noticed that the photos were guiding me too much to my liking, and the paintings lack a certain kind of looseness. The water is controlled quite tightly, which is nice, but which is not a conscious choice at the moment. So I wanted to challenge myself a bit.
I took a brush and my pan of Payne’s gray, and started doodling cats. I tried painting them wet on dry, and I also tried wetting the paper selectively first, then painting the cat. Both approaches are interesting. For example, this is the first cat I painted, wet on dry:
The shadow/floor is ugly, but I like the shape of the cat, it’s quite dynamic.
For the next cat I put a bit of water on the paper (in the shape of its body) and then I added paint. After letting it dry a little bit I added some paint for the spine, making this cat a tabby.
This cat is fascinated by something out there. Perhaps a bird in a tree? Or a bee flying on the other side of the window? I love the way this paint can produce so many different colours!
I made another cat trying to add some shade and the suggestion of fur.
I continued painting from memory, and some cats look rather nice, but some look more like dogs. In those cases I made the snout too big or too long.
This is fun to do! It’s also really hard. Every line and shape counts. Make the ears too narrow or too long and it looks like a wonky rabbit.
After this I decided to paint something more colourful. Now that it’s spring and the weather is all joyful and electric, what better than playing with flowers? I didn’t paint existing flowers, I just tried to make some colours work together to suggest them.
Then I tried painting a paler pink flower with darker parts, in which I could practice vanishing edges. It’s a bit wonky, but it was good fun to paint.
Even though the paintings are not as realistic as my previous ones, they are more dynamic and I have more focus on letting the water help me paint.
Then I wanted to paint the sea. Just because I love the sea and all its colours, moods, and sounds. I focused on the waves reaching the beach and on the dark clouds in the sky. First I painted the horizon line and I worked down from there, working drier as I went on. Then I started painting the beach sand from the bottom upwards. In the area where the sea and the beach meet I was working almost dry on dry. This caused areas to stay unpainted, ready to become foam or waves. Then I worked on the details.
The paper bulged a bit, that’s why the sea looks curved. The beach is a bit light, but I wanted to keep the focus on the waves. Perhaps the wave shadows are a bit too dark now, but I kind of like the effect. I guess I should add some more texture to the more distant part of the sea and I might do that later. But this meeting-in-the-middle approach worked quite well.
Later today I went back to doodling cats. They are just irresistable!